FROM THE BARBAROUS TO THE CIVILIZED
If art is not fine it
is crude, if not civilized then ... barbarous.†
In the twentieth century, art continued to exist on both levels, though
in a more complex and divergent way than ever before.† Moreover, a new type of folk art arose - a
militant or politically propagandist form of barbarism called Socialist
Realism.† It is distinguishable from
other types of folk art by being absolute in status and character, existing
within (formerly) Marxist-Leninist countries independently of civilized art and
on thematic terms which never vary.† No
other kind of painting could be officially created or admired within the
††††† Within the West, on the other hand, barbarous art was generally relative, co-existent with fine art and comparatively free from ideological fastidiousness - in short, a-political.† It was free to adopt varied subject-matter and, within limits endemic to its folksy status, to treat what it had adopted in a variety of ways, both technically and conceptually; though this is only clearly apparent to anyone who takes an evolutionary or comprehensive view of such art, and thus perceives it as passing through a spectrum of ongoing development from Naive-Primitive painting at the lower end, to Pop Art at the upper end via Modern Realism.
††††† For within each type or stage of folk art there is certainly a distinct formal and conceptual bias, which appears stronger at the lower end and in the middle, so to speak, than at the top, where, in response to evolutionary pressures, technique and treatment of more varied subject-matter varies quite dramatically from artist to artist, while still permitting a barbarous integrity to shine through.† For, despite its greater freedom than earlier types of modern crude art, Pop Art was still recognizably folksy and bore no resemblance whatsoever to the civilized art with which it was more or less contemporary - namely, light art.
††††† Before Pop Art arose, however, there was another type of art, distinct from civilized petty-bourgeois precedent and co-existent with light art, though not on that account a folk art.† This was Op Art, which strove to create an impression of movement and light relative to optical variations induced, in the viewer's mind, by the wavy lines or small circles or tiny dots or whatever of the particular Op work.† As a form of abstract art, there could be no question of one's considering such work as a more sophisticated type of folk art since, by definition, folk art is formally and conceptually anachronistic, existing as a law unto itself on a creative level very much beneath the technical and/or conceptual requirements of that civilized art with which, superficially at least, it is contemporary.
††††† No, and neither could this art be described as a higher kind of abstraction, one, say, post-Mondrianesque and therefore bringing art to an all-time abstract climax.† For in the European West, abstract art had attained to a climax with Neo-Plasticism, a materialistic development beyond Cubism, just as spiritualistic art had attained to a similar climax with Surrealism, that illusory art beyond (realistic) Symbolism, a climax indicative of a progression from lower/early petty-bourgeois art to higher/early petty-bourgeois art, which had a mainstream counterpart - mainly relative to Germany and America - in the distinctions between Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism on the materialistic side and, by contrast, Impressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction (Abstract Impressionism) on the spiritualistic side, after which time painterly art was destined to be transcended with the development of light art from lower/relative to higher/absolute levels.
††††† But if this late petty-bourgeois development was mainly relative, once again, to mainstream petty-bourgeois culture within the broadly
bourgeois/proletarian civilization of contemporary America, then the fundamentally bourgeois nations, such as Britain, France, Holland, and Belgium, were less disposed to such a radical break with the past and more disposed, in consequence of their more conservative natures, to create a type of light art employing painterly means, which resulted in the paradoxical phenomenon of Op Art, neither strictly painting nor strictly light art but a sort of chimerical compromise between the two and, if I'm not mistaken, the more civilized abstract successor to sculptural Op or, as it is better known, Kinetic Art.† If Op is materialistic in character, a bourgeois equivalent to tubular light art, then its spiritualistic counterpart, equivalent to non-tubular or free light art, must surely be Minimalist Art, which provides the mere outlines of a representational image, and is thus closer in conception to a comic book than to a magazine.
††††† As for sculpture-proper, which is the earliest fine art known to man and one not susceptible, in consequence of its ancient lineage, to extension beyond an early petty-bourgeois age, we are dealing with an art the basis of which is form and the essence of which is tactility.† From being representational, sculpture has this century become non-representational (biomorphic) but remains, at least in theory and in spite of its relative formlessness, fundamentally tactile.
††††† On the other hand, sculptural light art, though often having the appearance of a type of modern sculpture, should not be confounded with sculpture, since there can be no tactility with white-hot electric or neon tubes and, as a rule, very little form!† As a mainstream lower/late petty-bourgeois development, this relatively civilized art signifies a step beyond abstract painting in the overall evolution of art from sculptural beginnings towards a holographic climax.† Consequently there can be no question of its signifying a higher type of sculpture, since no sculpture can extend into a post-painterly epoch, but simply a lower type of light art, one 'sculptural' in appearance, and thus the logical precursor of a totally abstract and 'painterly' kind of light art such as usually employs slender neon tubing in adherence to a higher materialistic integrity.
††††† By contrast, spiritualistic light art has its inception in
'architectural' light art, or the use of spotlights and other such powerful
beams of electric light trained on the night sky according to a specific
pattern, and became in the course of (post-Nazi) time more refined and
absolute, culminating, we may assume, in such indoor laser shows as the
Americans in particular have developed.†
Generally speaking, whilst
††††† To return to painting, it should be evident to the reader by now that any painterly art with a pretence of being civilized can only be anachronistic in an age of late petty-bourgeois/early proletarian art, in which the focus of creative endeavour has switched from abstract painting to light art.† Frankly, painterly art is now passť, and those who still indulge in any form of civilized painting, be it non-representational or abstract, are living behind the times in a kind of petty-bourgeois dream world of their own imagination.
††††† Probably artists in the older European countries like
††††† But as the highest criterion of what is truly contemporary can only be derived from the leading Western nations, it follows that those who scorn this or are not in a psychological position to adopt it will continue to work in an obsolescent context, producing art of an inferior quality and status - novels and classical music no less than painting and sculpture.† Although such passť work could not be described as folk art, it is certainly less than truly civilized, if by 'civilized' we mean what is in the forefront of creative evolution.† Some of it may even be of less value than contemporary folk art, the mention of which brings me back to the distinction between the fine and the crude, where we began this essay.
††††† Since barbarous art must be categorized as an absolutely anachronistic type of art, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to contemporary civilized trends, we shall see that the current production of civilized art which is less than contemporary, like Abstract Expressionism or Abstract Impressionism in relation to light art, can only be regarded as comparatively civilized.† Certainly it is civilized compared with any folk art of the present century, including Pop Art.† But it is less civilized than those truly contemporary civilized arts which are in the vanguard of creative evolution.† We may prefer it to the genuinely barbarous, but if we are on the side of creative progress we will hesitate to regard it with the same respect as we reserve for higher developments.† And after light art, what higher development is possible if not representational holography, which I regard, in this context, as a relatively civilized art preceding the attainment of holography to an absolutely civilized status in total abstraction, both of which phases (of holographic evolution) should be relevant to the proletariat within the context of a transcendental civilization, such as I hope will presently arise in Ireland, a country with a long tradition of theocratic allegiance.
††††† If Pop Art is co-existent with light art within the overall context of bourgeois/proletarian civilization, then with the progression to an absolute civilization no such co-existence would be acceptable, the people having become or in the process of becoming civilized, and therefore entitled to the appreciation of a relatively civilized art.† In such a society the age-old dichotomy between the fine and the crude will be transcended, leading to an exclusive production of fine art of the highest quality.† Whereas relative civilization tolerated barbarism, an absolute civilization would be dedicated to civilizing the People.† Only thus will they come into their own as worthy inheritors of the highest cultural legacy - one stemming from contemporary bourgeois/proletarian civilization yet, at the same time, completely transcending it.